It’s not easy to find qualified employees in Georgia. When companies do find someone they want to hire, they have to make fast offers that include higher wages and flexible working conditions to seal the deal.
Non-farm employment in Georgia in June was about 93,000 below what it was in June 2019, but 317,000 better than in June of 2020, according to Georgia Department of Labor data.
There were approximately 45,000 more job openings in Georgia in March 2021 than in March 2019, and 137,000 more than in March 2020, according to experimental U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data provided by the Georgia Department of Labor.
The number of job openings in the U.S. rose to a high of 10.1 million at the end of June. Hires increased to 6.7 million and total separations edged up to 5.6 million. The “quits rate” hit 2.7% nationally and 3.0% in the South in June, according to BLS data. The rate indicates more worker mobility within the labor force.
As workers have started moving around between employers, there are also more who apply but don’t meet the minimum requirements of the company, according to Tom Smith, a labor economics expert and associate professor of finance at Goizueta Business School, Emory University.
Companies are also finding too few applicants with the specific training and skillsets they need. The lag time between recruiting and training workers means the shortages will be long-lasting, according to Butler.
Beyond the data, business owners and recruiters say they can’t find enough people to fill the jobs they have available.
A record-high 49% of small business owners reported unfilled job openings in July, according to a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey. The 48-year historical average is only 22%.
Industries such as trucking have reported worker shortages for the past decade. BLS data showed the industry lost 6% of its labor force of 1.52 million during the pandemic. By July, the industry had recovered about 63,000 of those lost jobs but still remains about 33,000 jobs short of employment levels in February 2020.
Several factors have converged to product the worker shortage.
A growing economy, supported during the pandemic by heavy federal spending, is producing higher demand for goods and services. As companies that laid-off workers have tried to rehire, they find not all are willing to come back.
“There’s no doubt that you still have some people that are staying on the sidelines,” Butler said.
Some are doing so out of fear of the virus, while others have found better jobs in new industries.
A demographic trend driving the shortage is an aging workforce nearing retirement, according to Butler.
Even the Georgia government is facing the prospect of veteran workers retiring in the near future.
“I have a feeling we’re going lose about 25% of our workforce here to retirement,” Butler said.
For businesses seeking to hire workers, higher pay is essential.
“You need to be paying probably $15 an hour or more to even be able to attract the talent to come to work,” said Kim Wallace, executive vice president at staffing agency Hire Dynamics.
The ability to work from home is a “hot topic in interviews,” Wallace said.
Speed and responsiveness in recruitment processes
Speed is becoming an essential part of the recruiting process for companies such as United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS). The shipping giant is developing an online application portal for seasonal applicants that can process and provide an offer to hire within 30 minutes.
Last year, UPS hired 5,000 people in Atlanta, and about 7,000 people in the state. The company announced in September they were going to hire about 100,000 people nationally, according to UPS spokesman Dan McMackin.
Along with offering competitive pay and benefits even for part-time workers, the company is touting a tradition of promoting from within. Former UPS Chairman and CEO David Abney started working for the company loading trucks.
“You can get your foot in the door as a seasonal worker, come back in January, February as a permanent hire, and then work your way up,” McMackin said. “This is the critical selling point to bring in as many people as we need.”
Solvay, a maker of solar panels, has also struggled to fill its open positions since the pandemic began to ease. The company employs scientists, engineers and researchers along with skilled labor for its manufacturing lines.
“It doesn’t matter what the position is, we’ve had a difficult time,” said Keri Williams, senior site HR business partner. “Candidates can demand more [because] there’s more opportunity out there for them. And it’s not just about money; it’s about things like flexibility.”
Extending reach out to talent
To find more prospects, Solvay networks at universities to raise its awareness among students.
“We have relationships with universities. Sometimes we fund research, sometimes we do special projects,” said Williams. “So we’re a familiar name to candidates who are coming out of the university system.”
Norfolk Southern is relocating to a new headquarters in Midtown Atlanta, catty-corner from the North Avenue MARTA station. Recently, it had about 27 postings for open jobs in areas such as marketing, labor relations, finance, IT, data science, civil engineering, and other roles beyond the direct train operational roles such as conductors.
“We are an organization leveraging technology and data to drive our organization forward,” said PC Bryant, assistant vice president for talent acquisition at Norfolk Southern. “So we have this wide array of positions that we’re trying to fill in the organization from frontline field level all the way up to executive level positions.”
Finding the right candidates involves educating potential hires about how the company has evolved beyond train operations to use data analytics and machine learning to improve freight rail shipping.
Like other companies, Norfolk Southern uses online tools such as LinkedIn and Handshake to reach out to new pools of candidates.
“We work on referrals,” Bryant said. “People who understand the culture and what it takes to be successful at Norfolk Southern have the opportunity to look at people and say, ‘This is somebody who really fits for us and can do a great job.’”
Faster pay is another market differentiator. SnapNurse grew from about 20,000 nurses using its shift scheduling platform to 150,000 nurses in one year after launching its “Instapay” system, which allows nurses to access pay within a couple of hours of finishing their shifts. “We’ve recently turned it into a platform that other employers can use also to pay their own employees every day,” CEO Cherie Kloss said.
The war for talent isn’t limited to private companies. Morehouse School of Medicine is competing with companies and other nonprofits to hire for jobs ranging from information technology to police officers.
“Those positions right now are tough to recruit for,” said John Case, senior vice president for operations and chief financial officer, noting that five of 15 positions in the campus police are empty. The much larger City of Atlanta Police Department has more than 200 open positions and other large metro Atlanta agencies are offering higher pay and benefits.